After battling through multiple knee surgeries, Eric Curry knows emotions will run high when he finally gets to play again Wednesday night.
The 6-foot-9, 240-pound redshirt senior missed last year because of his second major knee injury, but he could start in the U’s season opener vs. Wisconsin-Green Bay at Williams Arena.
What kept Curry from giving up on basketball after so many injury setbacks in the last four years?
“The motivation I got from all my peers, my mom, family and coaching staff,” Curry said. “I’ve never been a quitter in my life. My mom is my biggest motivation, and she works hard. Keeps her head down and keeps pushing. I figured I do the same and follow in her footsteps.”
Curry’s mother, Audrea, saw the comments from her son from videos posted on social media Tuesday. She tweeted that he was an inspiration to her and so many other people.
“It’s crazy how even when anyone speaks about Eric and his journey, it almost brings you to tears,” she posted. “He deserves a chance!”
Gophers coach Richard Pitino said Tuesday that Western Michigan graduate transfer Brandon Johnson had come back from an injury that sidelined him recently. Johnson hurt his ankle in practice, sources told the Star Tribune. That led Curry to being upgraded to starter in Saturday’s scrimmage at the Barn.
“We’re going to have to monitor his practice as much as we possibly can to be able to play in those games,” Pitino said. “But it’s great to see him out there. He looked really good. I’m happy for him.”
The Gophers last had Curry on the court during the 2018-19 season when he saw action in 15 games. Surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right foot, though, kept him out of the U’s run to the NCAA tournament second round.
Last October, Curry tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in preseason practice. He had missed the first 12 games the season prior following arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. That was the same left knee that forced him to miss the 2017-18 season after tearing multiple ligaments and his meniscus.
Curry is the only player left on Minnesota’s roster who played on Pitino’s first NCAA tournament team in 2017. Then a freshman, the Memphis native came off the bench to contribute in a variety of ways: defense, rebounding and clutch shooting.
In 49 career games, Curry has averaged 5.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists for the Gophers, including in seven starts. His return gives the U frontcourt more depth this season, which includes Johnson and Drake transfer Liam Robbins, the replacement for departed standout Daniel Oturu at center.
“This past year, I really focused on losing weight,” said Curry, who lost 10 pounds. “We came to the conclusion that basically that’s why I was tearing all those ligaments and hurting myself that much. … Back to my freshman year weight helped me out a lot. Basically, just preparing my body for this season.”
NDSU game canceled
The Gophers will play Loyola Marymount twice to replace a matchup with North Dakota State as part of its multi-team event (MTE) Saturday and Monday at Williams Arena, a source told the Star Tribune.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions in Minnesota, the Gophers are now allowed to play only one opponent during a three-day span at home.
LMU was originally scheduled to play the Gophers in the MTE in Minneapolis, but NDSU recently had expected to replace Eastern Washington in the event.
Playing with no fans
Pitino said the Gophers will have to adjust on the fly this season playing in front of no fans during the pandemic.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions limiting the amount of people indoors in Minnesota, the Gophers are not allowing the general public or team family members to attend games. They will only have cardboard fan cutouts in the seats.
“Playing in front of no fans is certainly a challenge,” Pitino said.